Annabel, A village in North Norfolk
Woke up to a text this morning with a picture of my friends beautiful baby who was born last Sunday. Very sweet and squishy little face.
It's Earnie's birthday today and he is six so we've had a cake. Dairy, grain, sugar free etc but pretty good under the circumstances. We may have to eat it all ourselves as no guests for tea, a birthday party of two.
Jobs done yesterday: plants out of the green house, dug over raised beds, a spot of weeding, walk Earnie, watering seedlings and the rest of the garden, plants in for bed. It was 9.00 before I came in and I was so cold.
Jobs done today. Open greenhouse and shed, plants out into the garden. Watering things in trays. Hoover downstairs and mop the floor, cut the grass, whisk fake cream (coconut yoghurt and coconut cream from the top of a can of coconut milk with a little maple syrup and squeeze of lemon juice). Eat a slice of cake and sing Earnie Happy Birthday then write this.
I haven't mentioned the lack of staff yet but... where are they?
I had a text on Friday and then a letter yesterday saying I had to stay in until the end of June but I was allowed to open a window!!! AAAGH
Anyway I think it's a mistake as I have been in remission from my auto immune condition for 5 years and am not immune suppressed due to my going alternative and my afore mentioned weird diet.
Thank God because I would have been locked down if I was still on the hideous immunosuppressants which would have been a nightmare.
The death count yesterday from Covid 19 not including todays figures was 20,319. There was a very sad story the other day of Katy and Emma Davis, identical twins who died within 3 days of each other. Heartbreaking interview with their sister who couldn't see her parents or be hugged by anybody. Very very sad.
Boris is back to work tomorrow. He's been away alot this year. Mustique at Christmas, away for at least 10 days over half term probably telling his kids he was getting married again and having a baby when the floods happened and the pandemic was kicking off. Ill for a couple of weeks, in hospital for a week and recuperating for 2 weeks!
I wonder if he is changed after his near death experience. I think he will be.
I am going to do a raid on my neighbours lilac in a minute if I can reach it. They are not there as they live in Cambridge. Might do an illegal incursion to see the bluebells at Blickling later but before that must start planting out the seedlings, walk the dog, water the garden etc etc.
Love Annabel xxx
John Underwood, Norfolk
A collection of lockdown diaries compiled by fifty Britons and reported in the Observer today shows what it calls a bleak contrast between those people like myself who can afford to cope in the current crisis and those who cannot, and are struggling with the basic necessities of life. I have long felt a huge alienation from those hugely affected by poor housing, no money, lack of work both now and ongoing, and loss of loved ones. Today I am angry, and sad, and at a loss what to write. I have just deleted a long piece which might upset people, but I will write this. A great many of the people who now applaud nurses, carers and essential workers, are the very same people who voted for a political party in government, who not only voted against a pay rise for nurses, but then applauded themselves afterwards in the House of Commons, waving their order papers and cheering. Well done.
Lily Wonham, Bristol
Generous nature is determined to keep our spirits up amidst lockdown with her endless sunny weather. Around my birthday, I always like to look for bluebells. The best bluebells are near where I grew up, but there are plenty here in Bristol too, if you know where to look. My housemate and I took Thursday afternoon to go bluebell hunting at the Ashton Court estate. The house itself is rather unremarkable; its real strength is in its vast grounds, which encompass neatly mown gardens, woodland, and meadows which reach towards the sky. It has a golf course and a bike hire centre, as well as a deer park - and the grounds are completely free and open. It is one of those joyful places which both feels familiar, and rewards the adventurer with new paths to be discovered on each visit.
We were forced into woodland hitherto unexplored by me, by the closure of a path ahead. The green glow of the trees encircling us was so dense and vibrant you could almost breathe it in. And we found our first bluebells here! Only a small clump but as lush as I remember them - a delicate blue carpet floating near to the ground. On exiting the woodland we took a long meander through a verdant meadow. Here we kicked our shoes off and walked the whole length barefoot. The warmth and tickle of the grass underfoot, the complete lack of city skyline in the view - in fact, the lack of being enclosed within walls entirely - was enough to make my heart soar.
After a final, longer, walk through a second woodland (more bluebells!) we stopped for a rest on some grassland within sight of the manor house before heading home. Sadly reflecting on how we would probably buy an ice cream if the usual truck had been around, our idyll was broken by two horse backed policemen, who trotted past to remind us not to sit for too long - it's allowed as a rest from exercise only. Considering we were miles away from anyone else, it was hard not to resent the intrusion into our peace and we made tracks for home.
All's well that ends well though - we bought our ice cream in a local supermarket, and enjoyed it greatly.
Notes from a factory in the Midlands
The highlight of my weekend was the postman delivering the 10,000th issue of The Spectator. And it is on top form this week, celebrating being the first weekly newspaper in the world to reach this milestone. The diary is by Ian McEwan, there are interviews with Salman Rushdie and David Hockney, and the usual rich blend of political and social commentaries, book and arts reviews, cartoons and poetry. Always intelligently written, and often delightfully provocative.
When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, dad subscribed to The Tablet and the TLS, and the paperboy delivered The Guardian and later The Times. On a Friday evening dad often also brought home a copy of that week’s New Statesman or Spectator. So we were never short of reading material, and I suppose I developed a kind of addiction to newsprint, even though today I consume much of it online. When I left England to take up a job in Milan in 1987 dad bought me a year’s subscription to The Spectator as a leaving present, and I have maintained the subscription ever since. I guess I must have read the last 1,500 or so of its 10,000 issues. My delivery address moved from Milan to Brussels in 1990, and then to London, to Surrey, to Warwickshire, back to Italy in 1997, to Monza, before returning to Warwickshire in 2001.
On the big question of the day, how and when to release the lockdown, the Spectator editorial characteristically advocates a “trust the people” line, saying that, in careful stages, the lockdown should be changed from mandatory to voluntary. The new mantra should be “keep your distance, and don’t take undue risks”. The Spectator’s most famous former editor returns to work tomorrow, faced with a series of almost impossible choices; but being PM is the job he always wanted to do: to govern is to choose. Elsewhere I saw a suggestion that the correct time to release the lockdown will be the point at which the (negative) consequences on health and mortality of remaining in lockdown outweigh the benefit of continued suppression of Covid19. But try explaining that trade-off to the public! The authorities are worried that the lockdown is worsening our general vitamin D deficiency, but the same authorities have banned sunbathing in public places. You couldn't make it up!
In the garden the hostas are starting to shoot, signalling the start of my annual battle with snails. I wonder if English garden snails are edible. Could they be steamed with butter, garlic and a splash of white wine? I think I will leave such habits to French. My mother-in-law remains frail but so far untouched by the virus.
Musings from self isolation
Billy Hearld, York
Looking for something to do, my family’s decided to redecorate my sisters room and so, having bought a stencil, they began to paint Dalmatian spots on the walls. Naturally, this led to the house being turned quite upside down as all of Poppy’s possessions spilled out of her room and onto the landing. Today is the first day when we will be going for a walk in fourteen days as, two weeks ago, Poppy had a cough and so the entire family were compelled to self isolate for two weeks. Finally, Poppy having recovered from her cough within three days of self isolating, the fourteen days are over and we can leave the house for a walk. Naturally we are all very excited!!!!
Clarissa Upchurch, Wymondham
Sunday morning, leaning out of my top window to view our street and to see if there is life outside. It is quiet and I strain my ears to catch any sound at all. The sun is doing its job of creating strong diagonal shadows on the tarmac below me and a gap between two buildings further down acts as a theatre stage in bright light for a lone pigeon pecking at something, a dropped seed maybe or a crumb. It is the only moving object, strutting around seeking more food.
I turn to look the other way and just catch sight of a large cat crossing the street on its way home from the meadows behind us, and when I ‘tutt tutt’ it looks at me briefly before carrying on. I recognise ‘Cuddles’ a mean rat-catching machine whose owner, a retired architect, runs a B&B and sends us Christmas cards always signing it on behalf of ‘Cuddles’ with a paw mark symbol. A sudden flurry of movement reveals a flock of white doves rising and then disappearing into the cobalt blue sky. I hear a dog bark, that must be ‘Rosie’ who lives two doors down, a beautiful King Charles Spaniel. I am told they make very well behaved house dogs. I have felt tempted to own one but our cat Lily is set against such a notion.
This could be an ordinary lazy Sunday morning. Edward Hopper’s iconic painting ‘Early Sunday Morning’ shows a street in contrasting light and shade. He is quoted as saying ‘there is a sort of elation about sunlight’ and I know what he means as I look out today. He suffered from depression so light was important for him. Many people have mentioned how the sunny dry days have been a blessing during lockdown. Getting out for a necessary walk is sheer pleasure. The Government has decreed that car journeys are allowable but only if the journey is shorter than the walk in the countryside. This has resulted in a worrying rise in car journeys. It could be the thin edge of the wedge or the leak in the dyke as floods of cars start to make longer journeys eventually reaching parts of England that so far have fewer cases of the virus. A big worry but at the same time the sale of petrol is helping the economy and the big oil companies. How to gradually release the restrictions of lockdown without causing a new wave of infections is a big headache.
I have not missed going out in the car. I am lucky here in Wymondham as there are many places to take a refreshing walk. My early drawings and paintings of Budapest showed empty streets or if there were cars they were stationary and only very occasionally could people be seen disappearing into a building or round a corner. It was essentially a deserted place as on a Sunday morning, much like this Sunday morning here in Wymondham - but wait! First one car, then two, and then a very fast one roaring down the road, shattering the peace and scattering the pigeons. Oh dear, it is not going according to plan…
Words from Wood Lane
Susan Neave, Beverley
In the 1920s a Beverley couple began making icecream behind their grocer’s shop near North Bar, the town’s only remaining medieval gateway. The business grew, eventually having a fleet of mobile vans, and a separate factory to manufacture freezer packs, but they continued to make and sell icecream from the old grocer’s shop. On a sunny weekend there would always be a long queue outside. The icrecream was vanilla, with a very distinctive flavour. I loved it, but early this century the shop closed. Fortunately we now have a local business making Italian gelato, in an amazing range of flavours, which they sell in their cafe. They have now taken a tiny unit in an arcade just opposite the old icecream shop, which for us is just a few minutes from home. On a summer Sunday (or even a dull winter one), especially if we have visitors, our treat is to wander round there and sample what is on offer. This is another of those things we can’t do at the moment. Instead I’m making homemade ginger icecream, or more accurately ‘semi-freddo’, adapted from a basic Jamie Oliver recipe. It’s very quick and easy to make, and if you like preserved ginger you’ll love this. I always make it for teatime on Christmas Day. The quantities below are for 6+ portions. The recipe does contain raw eggs.
2 large eggs, separated
250 ml double cream
1 oz sugar
1 vanilla pod
350 gm jar of stem ginger in syrup
Chop ginger into small pieces. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod, and whisk with sugar and egg yolks. Whisk cream in a bowl until soft peaks form. Whisk egg whites in a separate bowl. Fold ginger (inc. tablespoon of the syrup), whisked cream and egg whites to yolk mixture. Put into container, and freeze until you are ready to eat it.
Thoughts From the Top of the Hill
Linzy, Pateley Bridge, North Yorkshire
My old friend, Nicky from Vermont, suggested I might like to contribute here. We have found solace and perhaps encouragement from our email conversations recently, having not seen one another face to face for fifty years or so. The time drops away, we are older but regain some aspects of our youth in memories, photos of people we've forgotten, empathy.
Coming to this journal, I find people from some of the places I have lived in my erratic, wandering life. London, Suffolk, Bristol, Sussex and now North Yorkshire, where I feel very fortunate to have landed in a large farmhouse (rented, so not exactly secure) on a cattle farm. We are up on a hill, overlooking the town and have no neighbours with whom to share the Thursday clapping and banging. Just the cattle, clanging and clattering at their metal bars, which no longer keeps us awake.
We are so lucky, I keep reminding myself. We have been running, for the last ten years, an online bookshop. Business has been brisk during the lockdown and we have adapted to contactless courier collections. People are reading more (35% more, apparently) and their tastes are reflected in our sales. Lots of art appreciation, fiction, poetry, history, philosophy and religion and of course, cookery for those intending to acquire culinary skills, now they have the time. Of course, we cannot pursue our usual methods of replenishing our stock from auctions and book sales, so books are being sought from dusty boxes in the pantry and office and given their chance to find a new loving home.
So we have something with which to occupy ourselves, to distract from the round of news bulletins, press briefings and horrific statistics. We love to look at the books in the shelves behind the people broadcasting from home and spot titles we know, rejoicing that books are displayed so prominently to the population.
We can take a break to sit outside and bask in the sunshine, enjoying our wonderful view of the hills and woods across the valley, with sheep meandering up the hillside tracks. We listen to the country sounds and enjoy the silences. We used to be troubled by jet planes practising their deadly manoevres low in the valley, too near to the house we thought. They have gone and so have the endless vapour trails across our sky. It is very peaceful here. We rejoice in the decrease in pollution and wonder if the planet is finding its own way to survive.
What is missing and what troubles me most, is the happy sound of our grandchildren who used to visit so often and are now in their own lockdown too far away. Skyping just isn't the same.